WASHINGTON — Expanding the number of grains that qualify as whole grain options and expanding the number of whole grain products that qualify were among changes the US Department of Agriculture’s Food and Nutrition Service on Nov. 17 proposed to make to its Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC).

Whole grain options under the proposals would expand to include quinoa, wild rice, millet, triticale, amaranth, Kamut, sorghum and wheat berries. Whole grains products would expand to include tortillas made with folic acid-fortified corn masa flour, corn meal, teff, buckwheat, and whole wheat pita, English muffins, bagels and naan. The changes would accommodate individual or cultural preferences as well as special dietary needs such as those brought on by allergies, according to the USDA.

All the proposed WIC revisions incorporate recommendations from the National Academy of Science, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) and the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

“The American Bakers Association is pleased with the proposed USDA WIC revision rule and are looking forward to reviewing with our members and commenting in early 2023,” said Lee Sanders, senior vice president of government relations and public affairs for the Washington-based ABA. “At first glance, it is great to see greater flexibility for and expansion of whole grain options for participants in the proposal as recommended in the 2017 NASEM report. Additionally, the proposed rule includes package size flexibility that will also be beneficial for both manufacturers and program participants.:

The Independent Bakers Association, Washington, added, “Bakers see a big win with the proposed revision to the Women, Infant and Children (WIC) food program.”

The proposals covered other food and beverage categories. In dairy and eggs, proposals were made to provide more options such as offering different sizes of yogurt containers, substituting soy-based yogurt alternatives for milk and substituting tofu for eggs. The proposals also included federal authorization of lactose-free milk. Currently state WIC agencies have the option to authorize lactose-free milk, and almost all do, according to the USDA.

A joint statement from the National Milk Producers Federation, Arlington, Va., and the International Dairy Foods Association, Washington, took issue with proposals to decrease allowances for milk. Compared to the current maximum monthly allowance for milk, children would receive 2 to 4 quarts less, depending on age.

“It is unfortunate for WIC participants that the proposed rule would decrease access to dairy products and the unique nutrient profile they provide, especially considering the current Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA) note that a staggering nearly 90 % of the US population does not consume enough dairy to meet dietary recommendations,” the statement said. “At a time of rising food costs and high food insecurity, we should focus on increasing access to a wide variety of healthful, nutrient-dense and affordable foods, including both fresh produce and dairy products. It’s disappointing that the proposed rule would limit WIC family purchasing power for nutritious dairy foods, particularly at a time like this.”

In seafood, a proposal was made to improve access to canned fish. Other proposals sought to increase fruit and vegetable benefits by three or four times by focusing on whole fruit and to increase the variety of fruits, vegetables and legumes offered. The proposals also seek to add more flexibility in the amount of infant formulate provided to partially breastfed infants.

The USDA will accept comments on the proposed changes until Feb. 21. Comments may be made at www.regulations.gov. Written comments may be mailed to WIC Administration, Benefits, and Certification Branch, Policy Division, Food and Nutrition Service, P.O. Box 2885, Fairfax, Virginia 22031-0885. WIC provides supplemental foods to address the nutritional needs of low-income pregnant, breastfeeding, and non-breastfeeding postpartum individuals, infants and children up to 5 years of age at nutritional risk.

The proposed changes will provide WIC state agencies with more flexibility to tailor the packages to accommodate personal and cultural food preferences and special dietary needs, according to the USDA. Over 6 million mothers, babies and young children participate in WIC, said Stacy Dean, deputy undersecretary for food, nutrition and consumer services for the FNS, which offers more than 15 nutrition assistance programs, including school breakfast and lunch programs, WIC, and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

“USDA is committed to advancing maternal and child health through WIC, helping mothers, babies and young kids thrive,” said Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack. “These proposed changes will strengthen WIC — already an incredibly powerful program — by ensuring it provides foods that reflect the latest nutrition science to support healthy eating and bright futures.”